The Jew Bill
In 1654, 23 Jews arrived in New Amsterdam, then a Dutch-owned colony that later became New York. Forced to flee to this new land, this small group found themselves in a place where there was no Jewish community.
As Beth S. Wenger wrote in her introduction to THE JEWISH AMERICANS companion book, “These Jews had fled the island of Recife [Brazil] when the Portuguese seized it from the Dutch. They took refuge aboard the Sainte Catherine, which happened to be sailing for New Amsterdam. Governor Peter Stuyvesant, who ruled the Dutch-owned colony, wanted to refuse them admission and requested that his superiors in Holland prohibit Jews from settling in New Amsterdam. Stuyvesant insisted that ‘the deceitful race,’ ‘the hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ’ would only bring harm the new colony. But the Jewish settlers contacted fellow Jews in Amsterdam, who successfully petitioned the Dutch West India Company to overrule Stuyvesant’s pleas. Because Jews had been loyal and economically productive residents of Holland, the Dutch believed they could be the same in the fledgling colony and ruled that Jews would be welcome to live and work in New Amsterdam.” (The Jewish Americans, by Beth S. Wenger, Doubleday, 2007)
Though not an auspicious beginning, it was a foundation upon which the new immigrants could build. Through the intervening centuries, Jewish immigrants followed suit and traveled to American shores. Most were impoverished and came for economic reasons, while some fled to escape persecution.
Balancing a newfound identity as Americans while holding onto Jewish traditions had its own challenges. It created difficult choices, especially for observant Jews.
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